Category Archives: Kit

Haglöfs Open 5 Hamsterley Forest

The two-week run up to the January Open 5 event went better than usual for me. I traditionally get some sort of bug around this time of year. This time was no different, but I managed to shake it off quite effectively. I also came to the race straight from 2 weeks of Christmas holiday. This meant I’d only had a mountain bike to play on and consequently had done a lot more Open 5–like riding than usual. My head and legs were tuned!

I got a lift to the race from Alan, who fortuitously lives near to my mum and also has a nice barn not too far from the event centre. We hadn’t met before and I was very grateful for the help. We went up on Saturday, got settled and I stuffed myself with pasta before a quick trip to the pub (orange and lemonade; I’m a ‘serious’ racer, don’t you know 😉 ) and into bed. In the morning it was very frosty and icy on the roads, so it took as little while longer to get there than expected. Lucy was already ready and waiting for me.

Does this look like serious planning?!

Does this look like serious planning?!

We picked up the maps and had a quick plan. I think for once we both felt more like catching up with friends and chatting! The start was a couple of km away down a hill. It was still cold, so I was glad to get running.

We went straight up a hill, with me desperately trying to find enough air to talk and run at the same time. After the first control we were out onto open moorland. The ‘footpath’ was vague / non-existent and we were soon lifting our legs up over the heather.

My ankles held up well, but it was rather hard work and we weren’t moving very fast. This influenced our decision on route choice as we headed a long way out to the corner of the map along well made paths. After a 3km run downhill on a fireroad where I was still having trouble keeping up with Lucy (it’s not just the rough stuff!), I was tired for a different reason. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’, I kept asking. We decided to pick up a 15 pointer that was more or less on the way home, then got slightly misplaced looking for the final control worth 30 points. We made our way through low hanging tree branches, waded across a large river and squelched around until we found it. I was on the tow for the last 20 minutes and was glad of the extra assistance.

A typical view, heather, heather, heather

A typical view, heather, heather, heather

We joked that this was Lucy’s day to make me run extra instead of me making her bike extra! We got into transition after 2h15 compared to our normal target of 2h. The bike map was awkward with high-value controls at both ends of a map stretching across the diagonal. If we had known the control values before starting, I think it would have been better to bike first – but that decision is already made before you get them!

It was uphill again, with Lucy trying out a new-to-her 29er bike. There were some loud crunching noises and comedy spinning legs as gears were changed in the wrong direction, and one no-harm-done fall as the cleats failed to disengage. The biggest problem was the chain suck after we had been through mud, which caused a few stop-dead moments.

The route included a couple of sections of red grade singletrack which were a lot of fun. I whooped a bit as we flew along. I misjudged the quickest route between two of the controls in the forest and we met up again with a couple of friends we had passed going the same way. Then I saw James Kirby the photographer and was so excited! He missed us last time …

Big Grin!

Big Grin!

After a while the cold was getting to us. We had more stops than usual to put on coats and try to make cold fingers work with fiddly zips and buckles. I was conscious Lucy wasn’t her usual zooming self but there wasn’t much I could do about the cold, other than hope for another uphill … which only meant more hard work! At least the nice couple out for a walk cheered us up when they said: “you’re doing much better than the last lot who came past!”

We finished with a road section around Hamsterley. I took the opportunity to give a few helpful pushes where I could, but my legs were starting to pop as well. We got back to the finish only a few minutes late and made good use of the trail centre bike wash.

At prizegiving, we found we had won our category, though our overall score / placing was a bit down on where we’d be on our best days. Looking at the ways other people went, a more circular run across the heathery stuff might have been better. These things are easy to work out later though, sitting at home with a computer and a cup of tea! It just shows how getting the right strategy is such an important part of these races. You make reasoned decisions and live with them. The impact can vary from ‘slight’, to ‘get away with it’, to ‘disaster’!

I still had a great day out and really enjoyed both the running and biking. My spirits were immeasurably higher than last month and it was the best way to finish off the holidays. I knew it was a tough day as I was rather light-headed when I finished and needed to eat immediately. I was also barely capable of doing anything the next day, even after pizza and 11h sleep 😮 .

I headed home in a car full of podium placers – me, Chris (male pairs) and Anna (female pairs). Second set of thanks for a lift in one weekend 🙂 . It was good to get back home!

One last comment on this race – I was testing out my new (Christmas present) Amphibia X-Bag. It’s designed as a triathlon transition bag but also worked perfectly as an Open 5 transition bag …. My run pack and kit, my bike pack and kit, shoes, water, spare jacket, bits and bobs – all swallowed up into one bag and I could still pedal with it comfortably over my shoulder. I’m looking forward to putting it though its paces some more this year 😀

Hamster bag 1

Hamster bag 2

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Commuter Bike Crisis!

For many years I have commuted on my beloved Dawes Galaxy. When I first moved to Edinburgh I rode to work on a road bike, the first one I ever bought. After sitting unused for many years, that bike was finally donated to the BikeStation for recycling. There was one winter when I defected to a mountain bike, and one year when I rode ‘The Tank’. More on that later.

I had bought the Dawes in 2000 for doing a tour in Wales – the Sustrans national route 8 from Cardiff to Holyhead. Here you can see me modelling it! Since then it had done one other small scale tour in Fife. But it proved the most versatile I bike I owned for carrying all my luggage round town, being relatively fast, and withstanding everything me and the weather threw at it on a daily basis.

Me and the Dawes, leaving a campsite in Merthyr Tydfil

The highest point on the Taff Trail

Sometime last year, it started making funny noises. I sort of ignored it. Then I turned it upside down to fix a puncture and noticed the paint was peeling. Eek! A couple of months later I decided it really was time for a trip to the bike shop for some TLC. But first it needed a really good clean. That’s when I noticed this:

Frame damage 😦

Very bad news! The frame has cracked and has more than one hole in it. It does not seem safe to ride any more. A new downtube might cost £100. Not so bad, until you add in the cost of labour to strip the frame and then put all the parts back on again, the new bits it needed anyway, possible frame re-spray and getting the frame to someone to do the job. A new bike might cost about the same. But I didn’t intend to buy a new bike this year and I am sentimentally attached, however much Andy might say ‘the geometry isn’t right’!

In the meantime, I had to get a bike sorted to ride to work on. I need to be able to carry Italian books and recorders and work clothes and running kit and my lunch. I briefly glanced at my winter road bike, but with all that stuff on my back and on dropped handlebars, it didn’t seem too sensible. Then my eyes alighted on a (literally) very dusty bike in the corner. The Tank.

Gazelle Impala aka The Tank


 

Equipped with a rack for panniers, dynamo front light, mudguards, chainguard, hub gears and integrated lock. The ultimate in Dutch practicality. You’ll note I rode this for a year before. Why did I stop? Well, it needed a bit of work doing on it and it has one massive downside. It is really, really heavy! I can hardly get it up and down the stairs.

 
 

Anyway, needs must, so the Bicycleworks got the basics sorted out, fitted some tubes with normal valves and I was on my way. Something’s still up with the dynamo as it won’t work in the rain, and there is a new funny rattle coming from the front. But it is getting me to work and the shops and carrying my gear. I cruise around like I own the street. And I expect to have legs of steel by the time I decide what to do in the long-term!

* Incidentally – the rear panniers in the first two photos also got heavy use and were only just outlasted by the bike. This is why the new ones being modelled by The Tank are the same make – Carradice.

Big wheel convert

I have spent the last 3 years thinking about getting a new mountain bike, but 3 weeks ago I finally collected my shiny new steed from Moonglu in Ripon.

Here’s a picture of it:

The new bike, all shiny and clean - only ever ridden round the block!

The two most important features of this bike are:

  1. It is a 29er (i.e. it has big wheels!)
  2. It is made of titanium

Why?

After spending a long time thinking about investing in a full suspension bike (everyone said it would be more comfortable and I would ride technical trails more easily), for some reason I made a sudden switch to insisting that my bike had to be a hardtail, with big wheels and made of titanium.

My logic was that it would be lighter, need less servicing (no rear shock) and that the big wheels would be faster over non-technical trails (like roads (!), fireroads in the forest and some bridleways). A skim through a few forum posts convinced me that those same big wheels combined with a titanium frame would give me a plush ride.

So without having ever ridden a 29er (it’s hard to find demo versions at all, let alone ones in a women’s size), the decision was made. Sometimes you just have to have faith!

Spec

I am not the sort of person who enjoys trawling through Bike Radar and assessing the pros and cons of ever new bit of bike kit that comes out. I really only want my bike to ride well, and not wear out at the merest hint of a bit of mud and water. So with some help from my friends a starting spec was assembled and sent over to Neil Dunkley at Moonglu for him to make sure everything would fit together, source the parts and turn it all into a bike.

If you really want to know what went on it, you can see the full specification here.

First Race

Crossing a deep river - I didn't want to fall off too early in the race!

It took a while for everything to arrive, but I collected it just in time to test it out at the Trans Wales, a week-long mountain bike event riding over just the sort of terrain and distances I often face when adventure racing. I’ve heard there’s some sort of rule that says you shouldn’t use untested kit for the first time in a race. 😉 I ignored that and arrived on the start line fresh and ready to go, having practiced on my new bike all the way home from the station and back again. That’s about 7km, but there were a few potholes to negotiate!

Verdict

First I should say that this bike replaced a much-loved 10-year old Cannondale F500, complete with V-brakes and a Thudbuster suspension seatpost, which saved my posterior on more than one occasion.

But this bike is AMAZING!

One-finger braking!

After a day or two, I found it inspired confidence on the steep downhills (maybe that was the new disc brakes), whizzed down the long straights, was more comfortable than anything I have ever ridden before and was especially good at rocky stuff. I noticed this most when we had to do a whole series of river crossings. On the occasions when I accidentally came to a near-standstill in the river, just a little push on the pedals and I would pop over the rocks and onwards. Much better than falling off and going for a swim!

I think the bike has had an unexpected side benefit to my riding. I started to approach tricky looking sections thinking ‘well, my new bike will be able to ride that!’. I’d then cheerfully set off and clear the obstacle. I put this entirely down to the investment in a new bike 🙂 (though I’ll secretly admit that perhaps the little extra dose of confidence meant I rode things I always should have been able to).

The sealed gear cables did the business – perfect shifting for 7 days through muck and water. I just couldn’t get used to gears that worked! My only small niggle is that they don’t go low enough – I want to spin up those hills! With a 2×10 set-up I might be able to adjust this next time I get a new cassette, but I’ll see how it goes. Maybe I can just learn to ride faster?!

Only a whole load more riding will tell me how well the components stand up; how soon until I need to change the brake pads, replace the headset bearings or get a new chain?!

Testing it in the Trans Wales night stage

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